Recent limited editions of the poetry of Saul van Messel

JAAP MEIJER, whose sudden death on 9 July 1993 came as a shock despite his eighty years, will be remembered chiefly as a historian of the Jews of prewar Holland. Besides his numerous articles on the subject in the period from 1946 up to his death, he also published many works in book form - either through recognized publishers or privately. Less well known is that from the second half of the 1960s he published a great many volumes of poetry under the pseudonym Saul van Messel. This poetry was mostly suffused with memories. The first collections were brought out by established publishers; many of the later ones he published himself.
However, it was not until 1975 that he allowed several of his poems - mostly ballads - to appear in limited editions. Most of these editions appeared in the mid-1980s in runs of no more than twenty Roman- and one hundred Arabic-numbered copies and were intended primarily for good friends. Since these were not always sent to the same people, virtually nobody has a complete set. Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana does, however, have a very fine collection. Much of it has been donated by the author and is accompanied by handwritten dedications by him.
Jaap Meijer, who lived in Heemstede for many years, may have been inspired to create his own limited editions by S. L. Hartz, who designed much of the printed matter produced by the well-established Haarlem printing firm of Johan Enschedé. Hartz himself ran a small-scale, limited edition press called Tuinwijkpers; he was the same age as Meijer and also had a Jewish background.
Two of the limited editions owned by Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana are dedicated to Sem Hartz on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday on 28 January 1987. The first, in quarto format with a print run of 60 was inscribed 'Ad Sem Hartz' and was printed on a Mercator press; it was presented at Heemstede public library. The second, a personal testimony to Jaap Meijer's friendship for S. L. Hartz, is a small single-sheet print in blue and yellow bearing the motif of the celebrated eighteenth- and nineteenth century Amsterdam-Jewish printing family of Proops. The emblem depicts two hands raised in the blessing of the Jewish priests or cohanim, from whom Hartz, according to tradition, is also descended.

Most of Jaap Meijer's limited editions, and indeed most of his poetry in general, deals with one of two subjects: either the Ahasuerus motif and the rootlessness of the wandering Jew or his troubled memories of Jewish life in prewar Holland, especially of his childhood in the eastern part of Groningen (in which almost no Jews remain today). Many of these later poems are in East Groningen dialect. The Ahasuerus motif is also the subject of his earliest and privately published limited edition: Vagans judæus. Tien Joodse Gedichten (Heemstede, 1975). Tuinwijkpers published his Ahasverus in 1986.
A beautiful piece of work with regard both to text as well as design is Meijer's Chewre kadiesje (folded broadsheet, set manually in large wooden Columbia type by Menno Wielinga in cobalt blue on cream-coloured paper. Bedum, Exponent 1985, 120 numbered copies). This ballad tells of pious Jewish ladies who meet regularly to sew shrouds for deceased members of the Jewish community but who are themselves fated to die without shrouds.
The moving ballad 'Westerwolde' is dedicated to the region of East Groningen and the Jews who lived there before the war. The edition, set in Romance, was printed by Priegelpers in 1986 (150 copies).
His 'Jodenhoek/ Dodenhoek' eIoquently evokes the tension between Jewish Amsterdam's past and present. The ballad was published in Heemstede on 3 May 1987 on the occasion of the opening of the Jewish Historical Museum in the former synagogue complex on Amsterdam's Jonas Daniel Meijerplein.
To Heemstede, where he lived, he dedicated the small limited edition entitled Heemstede en omstreken (Heemstede 1986, 75 copies), set manually in Cancelleresca Bastarda. It includes a poem dedicated to the prewar Zionist rabbi S. R de Vries of Haarlem, and another to Mea Nijland-Verwey (Albert Verwey's daughter) of Santpoort.
Following Jaap Meijer's death two exquisite and fullcolour broadsides were exhibited in the reading room of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, his poem 'WINSCHOOT-sjoel zonder joden" (Bedum, Exponent 1985, 85 numbered copies) and "Groningen-Gassiedisch", typeset in Columbia (Bedum, Exponent 1985,115 numbered copies)[1] The latter work features two vaguely visible characters representing the Jewish theologian and scholar Martin Buber and the Groningen compositor H.N. Werkman, who also printed Buber's Hassidic legends as an evocative illustration of Meijer's combined Jewish, Groningen and bibliophile interests.



[1] The text of the ballad 'Groningen-Gassiedisch' was reprinted with a black and white reproduction of a print by H.Werkman in his Voorbijganger. Late gedichten (Oosterwold 1989).


A. K. Offenberg, 'Bibliografie van het afzonderlijk verschenen dichtwerk van Saul van Messel' in: Pieter jonker et al., Hou vremd ik blief, Saul van Messel, joods dichter in het Nedersaksisch (Oosterwolde 1985) p. 61 -72.